Earth observation (EO) is fascinating. Using spaceborne sensors, humanity is now able to look down and understand itself, its planet, and the relationship between the two in new ways. Oftentimes, a criticism of the space sector is that there are too many problems here on Earth to deal with, so why go to space? EO is an obvious rebuttal – going to space also helps us address issues here on Earth more effectively. To learn more about the EO industry, we spoke to Andrew Cutts, a GIS consultant who also co-hosts the podcast Scene From Above.
What attracted you to becoming an EO data analyst?
I did a geography degree and was particularly interested in “geography with computing” as a career circa 2000. Having done a master’s degree in GIS, I spent probably three to five years more focused on vector and web mapping – that was where most of the jobs were (and probably still are). Increasingly, satellite imagery became a more viable tool for the industry in which I was working, oil and gas. I began to benefit from the opening up of more datasets, Landsat in particular, and the availability of VHR optical images for mapping. I used EO data from a geological perspective, trying to model and understand the near surface.
After leaving the oil and gas sector in 2016, I thought a lot about what I was most interested in. For me, EO was and still is the most exciting part of the “geospatial sector”. I don’t consider myself an EO data analyst but rather more of an Earth data scientist. What continues to attract me is the analytical side of processing imagery and utilizing a deep time series of imagery. The most revolutionary tool for this today is Google Earth Engine.
What are some areas of EO data analysis you see as particularly exciting?
Climate science and EO are both very exciting areas. Sentinel 5P is an amazing instrument and one that has told the story of lockdowns during the pandemic across the world. I think seeing how others are using EO data is pretty fascinating as well. There is a lot happening. Our podcast, Scene From Above, tries to keep track of it all and to report on relevant news.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to become EO analysts?
I don’t know if I have any meaningful advice to give since it’s so subjective. I have achieved the greatest career satisfaction in being able to share knowledge with others, whether internally in organizations or via blogging and podcasting. I don’t believe there is one set path that fits all. I am suspicious of anyone who champions that. Perhaps the advice I would have given myself 20 years ago, knowing what I know now, would be to take more risks.